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1883 Ecclesial Guide

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36. -- Individual Offences.

Christ has laid down the law very plainly for the curing of these; and it is the duty of the brethren everywhere to see it obeyed. They ought to refuse to countenance those who disobey it. If a brother takes offence at what another has said or done, he is bound to meet that other brother in private interview for the discussion of the grievance between the two alone. In most cases, this course stops alienation at its first stage; it either removes misconception, if that has been the cause of the trouble; or it leads to the admission of wrong on the part of the offender, followed by forgiveness on the part of the offended. Of course, there are many matters too trifling to be made the subject of such a process. The man who recognises the infirmity of human nature all round, and the evil nature of the few days we have to live, is able to exercise that magnanimous charity that covers a multitude of sins, heeding not all words that are spoken, and even practising the habit of returning good for evil: -- bless always -- cursing never, either directly or by implication -- as the commandments of the house of Christ require.

But supposing an offence arise which a brother cannot thus overlook, but which he feels to be a barrier between himself and the offender, then he is bound to take the course indicated. He is not at liberty to mention the matter to a third party, and he is not at liberty to stand aside in a state of alienation. If he do either the one or the other, he makes himself as much an offender as he may imagine the cause of his injured feelings to be. A man who disobeys the commandment of Christ on one point, is as much a transgressor as the man who disobeys it on another. Consequently, an ecclesia knowing of such a case, is bound to persuade the offended brother to see the offender in private, or to withdraw from him in case of refusal.

There is everything to be said in favour of Christ's commandment in this matter. It is humbling to the offended to have to go and see the man who has offended him (and if he is too proud to submit to this, he is self-condemned: for the proud are an abomination to God); and it gives to the offender the best chance he could possibly have of making any amends the case may call for. The act of the offended brother coming and seeing him has a conciliatory effect on him: and his personal presence gives him the opportunity of thoroughly discussing every point on the spot.

A communication through a third party (or still worse, a letter), is on fulfilment of the law of Christ; offers none of its opportunities of reconciliation; is rather calculated to prolong and aggravate the irritations of the case; and ought not to be received as a compliance with the law of the case. The brethren, refusing to listen to the merits of the case one way or other, ought to insist upon the offended seeing the offender, or dissociate themselves from his company.

The plea that it is of no use ought not to be entertained for one moment. Such an impression ought not to be made a reason for disobeying a plain commandment. Whether of use or of no use, an offended brother is bound either to drop the quarrel, or see the offending brother. It is not as if the failure of the interview left him without remedy.

His next step is (in case of failure) to take two or three other brethren with him. Where the interview between the two parties fails, this may succeed, because fresh influences is brought to bear with fresh and conciliatory minds. The offended brother is bound to take this step, as well as the other: otherwise he is disobedient. It may be of no use, but it must be done. If it succeed, he has his reward. If it fail, he has his remedy: he is to bring the matter before the whole ecclesia. The ecclesia is then to admonish the offender if he be found in the fault. If the offender refuse to hear them, it is their duty to separate him from their fellowship by withdrawal.

Unless individual offences are strictly treated in this way, the community will constantly be in danger of disturbance and even disruption. An offended man, allowed to ventilate his grievance among other, is liable to enlist the feelings of others on his behalf, and the brother against whom the grievance is entertained, is liable, in self-defence, to urge his side of the case: and thus bad feeling is diffused, and a state of mind generated that easily leads to division. Let Christ's wise rule be insisted on and the mischief is stopped at its beginning.

Even in the interests of self-defence, Christ's wise rule ought to be insisted on. Who is safe from slander if a brother may pour his evil thoughts into the ear of a third person? What righteous man would suffer if every complainer were first compelled to make known his complaints to the person against whom they were directed? Nothing will more effectually secure peace in a community than the maintenance of Christ's rule for dealing with offences personal or otherwise.

 

37. -- Ecclesial Differences.

These are different from individual offences, and yet they stand nearly related to these, and are best dealt with by the same general rule that Christ lays down for them. They require most careful treatment, otherwise the peace and well-being of an ecclesia is liable to be destroyed by unwise steps inspired by motives commendable enough. They are of two classes -- internal and external.

 

38. -- Dissatisfied Minority.

In this case, they arise from the dissatisfaction of a minority with something that is done by the majority, or with something that is in the power of the majority to alter. The minority feel strongly. Perhaps the majority have appointed some brother to an office for which the minority consider him unfitted; or some proposal of the minority may have been rejected by the majority, or some measure resolved on by the majority that the minority greatly disapprove of. The impulse of the minority in such a case is to stay away from the meeting, or worst still, form a meeting of their own. Now it is obvious there must be some rule of collective action, permitting of the co-operation of those who differ in judgment on practical details. The law of Christ yields such a rule.

 

39. -- Absence and Separate Meetings Unlawful.

It is, in the first place, an imperative law that the brethren must be one body, and that they must submit one to another. It is a law of the house that each brother and sister must meet at the table of the Lord on the first day of the week for the breaking of bread. Nothing but denial of the truth in the assembly or overt disobedience of the Lord's commandments among them, can justify a brother or sister in absenting himself or herself from the breaking of bread. Such will deceive themselves if they think a private breaking of bread will be accepted in lieu of breaking bread with the assembly. It is the latter the Lord has required of us, and it is the latter we must render. What is true of one is true of more. Nothing but rejection of the faith or the law of Christ by the assembly can justify the formation of a separate assembly. If the matters of difference inclining to this course do not affect the question of the truth or the commandments, it is the duty of the lesser to submit to the greater number. There is no other practicable rule of action. In such a case, the minority will bear their disappointment and conform to the decision of the majority. It is their duty to do so by every law of association -- human and divine. They will be enabled to do it the more easily if they remember that it is a matter of apostolic command to submit one to another; to give place to disadvantage; to overcome evil with good; to bless, and curse not. Men of the apostolic stamp will not retort that this is equally binding on the others. Men of the apostolic stamp will be more bent on subjecting themselves to the apostolic law than imposing it on others.

If, instead of submitting, they separate themselves, they put themselves in a false position from which worse things than those they objected to, will come. Their action means that the greater number ought to submit to the lesser, or that there should never be submission to the wishes of others, and that a disappointed minority should always leave a meeting where their wishes cannot prevail. Such a doctrine is fraught with confusion and ruin, and is inconsistent with the most elementary commandments of Christ.

 

40. -- A Time to Separate, and How to go about it.

Suppose, however, the case is more serious than this: Suppose the majority decide upon something that involves the denial of the truth, or the violation of the commandments, the minority might have to consider whether continued fellowship with the majority would not be inconsistent with their duty to Christ. There is a time to separate, as well as a time to hold together. Suppose such a time come, great care must be taken in the mode of action, otherwise the right side may get into the wrong posture, or put it into the power of the wrong to appear the right to the embarrassment of relations with other ecclesias.

It is a maxim of universal law (divine included) that no man is to be judged without a hearing. If it is true of one man, it is true of a number of men, and to be applied as scrupulously to an erring ecclesia as to an individual delinquent. Suppose this rule is not acted on, -- suppose the aggrieved minority simply depart, without formulating their grievances, and without giving the offending majority an opportunity of either justifying or removing the causes of offence, the situation is afterwards embarrassed for the minority as regards other ecclesias. Other ecclesias are in fellowship with the offending majority; and if there be not a correct mode of procedure, those other ecclesias will not have it in their power to decide upon the issue. The only thing they can have officially before them is the fact that a discontented minority have left, which, prima facie, is itself an offence.

The minority may feel that formality is superfluous in view of the controversy that may have caused the secession. This feeling may be natural to them, but ought to be set aside; there are others to be considered, and their own subsequent relation to them requires correct action. A course must be taken which will secure the right form of those relations. The course to be taken is undoubtedly this: let the minority reduce their charges to writing, and hand the same to the Recording brother, and ask a meeting for the discussion of them, intimating that a question of the continuance of fellowship is involved. If the meeting is refused (and the charges be of a sort justifying withdrawal), the minority have no alternative but to withdraw; and let them inform other ecclesias of their act, and send to them a copy of the charges, which will put it into their power to consider whether the minority are entitled to their recognition and sympathy. If, on the other hand, the meeting is granted, as probably it will be, the discussion of the charges may lead to their disproof or to the acknowledgment and the removal of the grounds of them. If the discussion have no such result, but the charges are established and owned to by the majority, and the grounds of them persisted in, the course of the minority is clear: let them withdraw (if the case warrant it) and announce their action to all whom it may concern.

 

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